[Marxism] Ripped from the pages of Capital
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 15 09:38:16 MDT 2011
NY Times Editorial August 14, 2011
Cheap Robots vs. Cheap Labor
Workers in China’s export heartland of Guangdong make $200 a month
assembling the consumer goods Americans hold so dear. In Jiangsu,
they make $175. It seems that isn’t cheap enough.
Terry Gou, the founder and chairman of Foxconn, which employs one
million workers in China making Apple iPads, H.P. computers and
other electronic devices, announced at a company party in Shenzen
last month that he would deploy a million robots at his plants by
2013 to do much of the labor currently performed by human hands.
It’s not only Foxconn complaining about expensive labor. Many
companies have moved away from export hubs in coastal areas to
regions like Chongqing, where workers are paid $135 a month.
Others are going farther. Yue Yuen, the world’s biggest shoe
maker, is setting up shop in Cambodia and Bangladesh.
Foxconn said it wants employees to move “higher up the value
chain.” Certainly, moving up the technology ladder drives economic
development. The tractor and other farming inventions pushed
millions of Americans off the farms. Computers displaced clerical
workers. These breakthroughs created better-paid jobs for educated
workers. But it’s unsettling to see cutting-edge labor-saving
technologies deployed in a country where jobs must be found for
some 300 million Chinese who live off the land.
Wages are rising, with salaries of many factory workers in China
going up 20 percent to 30 percent annually. But that’s mainly
because the new manufacturing jobs are far from where the
underemployed farmers live. And the Chinese government doesn’t
make it easy for workers to move from where they live to where
they are wanted.
Even with this kind of wage pressure, pay is still very low. A
Department of Labor study estimated that manufacturing workers in
China earned $1.36 an hour in 2008 — about 4 percent of what an
American worker made and less than wages in Mexico, Brazil, the
Philippines and even India.
It’s hard to believe that hundreds of millions of Chinese can move
quickly up the economy’s “value chain” to become tomorrow’s nurses
and engineers. In the meantime, as robots take over more work, the
millions trapped in the countryside will have even fewer
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